Release Date: Dec 13, 2011
Record label: Elektra
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
A successful blend of ostensibly distinct musical styles and elements, last year’s collaborative effort by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck, IRM, set the bar rather high. So it makes sense for the subsequent full-length to be a double album. Part live performances and part unreleased studio material, Stage Whisper doesn’t hold back. With songs from 5:55 and IRM, the 11 live tracks showcase Gainsbourg’s lithe vocals, especially on her pristine cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” Nevertheless, the seven new songs are easily the best portion of the records.
What you’d expect from a Charlotte Gainsbourg studio offcuts album would be experimental arrangement, quirky instrumentals, understated vocals. Stage Whisper, to the listener’s surprise, is not that; rather, it is a compact release of a mere seven tracks, filled with disco beats and softly-sung hooks. The latest release from daughter of Eighties power couple Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin opens with a Goldfrapp-stylee belter.
If you know her only as the very intense Parisian lady from Lars von Trier movies, this double album should serve as a good introduction to Gainsbourg and her ultracool brand of electro-pop. Featuring unreleased studio tracks as well as live performances of songs from her 2009 breakout IRM, Stage Whisper is all slow-grinding skinny-jeans disco and breathy emotional detachment. In other words: impossibly chic, and impossibly French.
The universe seems to be telling Charlotte Gainsbourg not to make music. All the ingredients for a doomed career are there. She had no choice but to be born into the shadow of her famous musician father—the late, great Serge Gainsbourg—which meant she would be hard-pressed to be taken seriously as an artist in her own right. But Charlotte Gainsbourg managed to surpass the expectations of any possible detractors by embarking on a successful career as an art-house actress.
Following the quietly brilliant IRM would be a tough act for almost any artist, so Charlotte Gainsbourg extends the afterglow of her second album a bit longer with this collection of previously unreleased songs and live tracks. Featuring several songs culled from the sessions that birthed IRM, Stage Whisper’s studio tracks reaffirm that she and Beck struck gold with their collaboration: lead single and opening track “Terrible Angels” has an eerie-yet-sexy stomp that falls somewhere between Goldfrapp's glam shuffle and Broadcast's experimental electro-pop; later, the ballad “White Telephone” has an aloof intimacy that suggests Gainsbourg could very well be the successor to that group’s more accessible side after Trish Keenan's untimely death. While it’s easy to hear how these songs didn’t necessarily fit into the story that Gainsbourg and Beck told on IRM, they share the new life that album gave to her music.
Charlotte Gainsbourg has been in the public eye for most of her life. She's been acting since she was 13, and the first glimmers of her parallel musical career date to the same year, when she dueted with her father, Serge Gainsbourg, on a song called "Lemon Incest". He produced her first album two years later, in 1986, but she left music alone for more than a decade after that, and didn't pick up her solo career again until 2006.
You wouldn't blame Charlotte Gainsbourg for leaving her dad's legacy well alone and yet her music has often been deft and beguiling – her gossamer voice seemingly unencumbered by family baggage or public expectations. Stage Whisper is more of a stop-gap than a fourth album proper, and the nine live tracks – mainly taken from 2006's 5:55 and 2009's Irm – add little to the recorded versions. But there are gems among the eight unreleased songs: "Paradisco" sees regular collaborator Beck float her ethereal vocals over a strutting funk bassline, while "All the Rain" broods like a lost relative of Massive Attack's "Teardrop".
This collection of unreleased tracks, live songs and, in the fancy box-set edition, a concert DVD, is Charlotte Gainsbourg's first album since 2010's impressive IRM. The curiosity is in the eight offcuts. Beck's work on IRM carries over into four songs – Terrible Angels and Paradisco offer a kind of oscillating glam-funk that goes perfectly with Gainsbourg's clipped, blank vocal style, while All the Rain and White Telephone reimagine her as a 70s balladeer, with an intriguing timelessness emerging.
Releasing a live album in the realm of pop is hardly a new phenomenon. However, this simple reminder that the artist is still active – they’re just biding time until a proper release – is usually reserved for the seasoned touring act. Despite a life in the spotlight, Charlotte Gainsbourg only set her sights roadside after her 2010 release IRM.
In both facets of her career, actress/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg has made a living bringing other people's visions to life. Given her broad range of collaborators-which have included Air, Beck, Jarvis Cocker, and Neil Hannon-it makes sense that any collection of her music would sound a bit schizophrenic. To avoid outright auditory whiplash, Stage Whisper is wisely divided into two halves-unreleased songs and live versions of tracks from previous albums.
Why, when she freely admits to having little faith in her onstage ability, has [a]Charlotte Gainsbourg[/a] gone and made a live record? The second half of this double album is made up of unthrilling live recordings, Gainsbourg giving the impression that she is struggling to keep up with her band. Without a guiding hand – such as Beck, who directed her fine 2009 album ‘IRM’ – she seems to be left floundering, and that the first disc here was made with several different collaborators certainly doesn’t lend cohesion. On ‘Got To Let Go’, written with [a]Noah & The Whale[/a]’s Charlie Fink, she intones “[i]it’s a deadly revolver to your head[/i]” with absolutely no sense of danger.
Charlotte Gainsbourg's Beck-produced IRM was a stellar sleeper gem of an album, but this follow-up sounds tossed together. As a singer, the French star is graceful and airy but limited. IRM worked because its zany arrangements, samples and psyched-out effects perfectly accentuated her detached style. This collection, cobbled together from the IRM studio sessions and live recordings from Gainsbourg's first-ever North American tour, highlights her weaknesses as a performer.
Released to tide over fans between releases, ‘Stage Whisper’ follows Gainsbourg’s critically-acclaimed album ‘IRM’, released in 2009, which was recorded soon after the actress-cum-singer (singer-cum-actress? Maybe the less said about ‘Lemon Incest’, the single she put out with father Serge when she was twelve, the better) suffered a near-fatal cerebral hemorrhage. The first disc of ‘Stage Whisper’ is the party bag Charlotte Gainsbourg hands out to people after they leave the main celebration of IRM. A bit of a mixed bag.
An obvious, albeit appealing, stopgap release. Martin Aston 2012 Whatever the merits of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s dreamy, pale delivery, it’s doubtful she would ever choose singing as her primary career option. Nor, for that matter, would anyone else. The same goes for her mum Jane Birkin, whose link to dad Serge gave her a musical platform.
WEBBIE “Savage Life 3” (Trill) The Baton Rouge, La., rapper Webbie has the laziest sort of charm. He didn’t even take time to come up with a newish title for this, his third solo album, and he certainly doesn’t agonize over his lyrics, which have a haphazard quality cohered mostly by his heavy local drawl, in which he never quite closes a syllable. Almost a decade ago he emerged in tandem with the far more fiery and intricate Lil Boosie (who is serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to smuggle drugs into two prisons and is awaiting trial on a murder charge), and he appeared happy to play second fiddle.